Matt and Sarah Jones knew the surface details of Van Andel Institute but for years, they didn’t have the opportunity to learn about its work beyond what they saw of the building. Years later, when they moved back to Grand Rapids, they searched for a place to get involved and make an impact. VAI was the perfect match.

“Looking back now, there really is nothing quite like the Institute,” Sarah said. “It’s a place we can support right in our backyard while knowing it has a worldwide impact.”

The couple first became involved by joining the JBoard, VAI’s network of early and mid-career professionals in 2020. It was an unusual time, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person gatherings and events. For their first year as JBoard Ambassadors, the couple could only experience virtual events. While it wasn’t what they originally expected, the virtual gatherings still proved fruitful.

“Those early virtual events gave us the opportunity to focus entirely on hearing about the science, something that was incredibly important to us,” Matt said. “Everything was a bit more difficult back then, but hearing about the research was inspiring, and it made it clear to us that we were in the right place.”

In the years since, they have stepped up their commitment to the Institute, not only by attending gatherings but also by donating auction packages and sponsoring events. Sarah is also a part of the Around the World planning committee, helping organize the JBoard Ambassadors’ kickoff to summer.

Their increasing involvement is driven by an endless desire to improve the world around them. Both Matt and Sarah have seen family and friends come face-to-face with disease, experiences that shape their belief in biomedical research.

“Even when I don’t understand every bit of the science, I still hear the mission — that’s what I love about the scientists, you can tell they’re truly passionate about being here,” Matt said.

Meeting scientists, postdocs and graduate students brings a valuable personal touch to the Jones’ relationship with VAI. For Sarah, a Grand Rapids native, it’s an opportunity to see beyond the Purple Community events she heard of as a child. Learning more about the research and hearing it’s taking place in her home makes it easy to support the mission.

Together, they’re excited to see that mission grow beyond the walls of the Institute. They aim to continue supporting VAI, attending events and providing a helping hand when able — and they’re eager to see how the Institute and city evolve.

“You hear of scientists and students coming from around the world because of the Institute,” Sarah said. “It’s inspiring, and you have to imagine it’s driving bigger and better things for Grand Rapids.”

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